Like many naïve first-time parents, I had no idea just how life-altering having a baby would be. Sure, I knew there would be less sleep, less time, and many more messes to clean, but I figured that the baby would just sort of fit into my already-busy life, like a cute accessory.
Boy was I wrong.
In the months after my daughter was born, my days were fully occupied just trying to feed her and myself, and maybe sneak in a shower or a nap. Cooking dinner was replaced by ordering takeout, and the thought of entertaining felt absolutely impossible.
Fast-forward nine months, and I'm not only cooking again, but amazingly, I'm also managing to throw dinner parties on a pretty regular basis. My husband and I have discovered that dinner parties are actually the ideal way for us to see friends these days, as it allows us to have a fun night in without having to hire a babysitter.
Dinner parties are actually the ideal way for us to see friends these days.
What I really mean when I say "dinner party."
Perhaps I'm using the term "dinner party" a bit loosely. These are super-casual suppers that I can throw together in a few hours with a baby underfoot — not fancy affairs with hand-written menus and Pinterest-inspired place settings. I've learned to simplify my menus and my expectations, and to come back to the heart of why we have friends over in the first place: to connect around the table.
More on laid-back dinner parties: 5 Rules for Hosting a Crappy Dinner Party (and Seeing Your Friends More Often)
I've learned by trial and error, but we seem to have a plan that works for the post-baby dinner party that makes my life easier and facilitates being able to have people over. Here are my best tips.
1. Simplify your menu.
I know this is not the time to try out five new recipes. Instead, I'll make something easy like a big pot of soup, or a classic roasted chicken with roasted root vegetables.
I had a group of friends over several months ago and thought: What can I make ahead that will be really delicious? I decided on slow-cooked pork barbecue with slider buns and a big salad, and a bowl of old-fashioned banana cream pudding with Nilla wafers for dessert.
The kicker? I served everything on paper plates. Everybody absolutely loved it, and I had no dishes to do afterwards. Win!
I've made peace with the fact that my friends love me for who I am, not how frequently I vacuum or scrub my bathroom.
2. Do as much ahead of time as possible.
My daughter, Evie, goes to bed at 7 p.m., which means that the pre-party hour of last-minute house-cleaning and food prep is now spent getting her ready for bed. This has actually been a great lesson for me and I've become really efficient at prep.
I shop a day ahead (and order groceries if possible), prep, and set the table during her naps, and try and make a main dish that can be simply reheated or assembled before serving. That way, once my friends arrive, the baby is in bed and I can actually enjoy myself.
3. Put the baby to bed before dinner.
I've hosted a few dinner parties where I tried to include my daughter in the fun. What I learned: This ends up not being so fun for me, as I'm juggling food, guests, and an overtired baby. As I recently chronicled on my blog, at some point a meltdown occurs and I'm forced to leave the table to soothe her, which means I end up missing out on the dinner.
4. Say yes when people offer to bring something.
Before the baby, people would ask if they could bring anything and I'd tell them everything was under control. That has changed! Not that things aren't under control — I'm just more willing to accept help.
Potlucks are the perfect way to throw a dinner party post-baby, as everyone is only responsible for making one thing. Plus, it's a fun way for everyone to show off his or her culinary skills. My friend Kristin Donnelly recently wrote a fantastic book called Modern Potluck, inspired by her days as a new mom when cooking an entire dinner party menu was totally overwhelming. Her crowd-friendly recipes and potluck-throwing tips are excellent.
5. Forget cleaning.
For me, the most stressful part of having friends over used to be worrying about my house being clean. And, if you have young children, you know what a challenge that is!
Now I've made peace with the fact that my friends love me for who I am — not how frequently I vacuum or scrub the bathroom. I've also gotten really good at doing a 10-minute clean before friends come over: a quick pick-up (and yes, I'll throw things into closets or drawers to hide them) and a speedy kitchen and bathroom wipe-down. Dim lighting hides the dust, and wine helps, too.
And P.S.: Don't forget to have fun!
This might sound obvious, but as the host — and as a sleep-deprived new parent — it's easy to get stressed and lose sight of why we're having people over in the first place. I've realized that my friends aren't there to judge, but rather to enjoy being together.
If the food's not ready when people arrive, who cares? I pour everyone a glass of wine and let them hang out in the kitchen and chat with me while I cook. Or better yet, I'll have them help!